I went to a Bat Mitzvah yesterday. In parsha Chukat we heard of Moses striking a rock with a staff instead of speaking to it, as commanded, to obtain water for his thirsty, cranky people. As the rabbi spoke of this, he somehow made mention of a snake wrapped around the stick (I confess I missed the precise connection; the Bat Mitzvah girl's tallit was gorgeous and I was busy admiring it.) He then asked, "Does anyone know what the symbol of snakes and a staff represents?" Medicine. "Does anyone know what it's called?"
Darling Spouse turned to me and murmured, "Caduceus. Like Kedusha?"
I felt as if I had been struck by a thunderbolt.
At this point, I have to point out the difference between hearing words spoken and seeing them written. Caduceus is Latin, from the Greek karukeion, for herald or staff, and pronounced "ka-DOO-shus." Kedusha is from the Hebrew root kuf-dalet-shin, which means "holy."
The two words have absolutely nothing in common linguistically. Nothing.
There have been plenty of discussion about the spiritual aspects of medicine; everything from medicine as a calling to polls about the role of religion in the exam room. Whatever our individual religious or spiritual backgrounds, I do believe physicians who take their practice seriously would agree that there is a holiness to the art of healing.
Words can be read on a page or spoken aloud. Yet when these two words, from linguistic derivations about as far apart as can be imagined, are spoken and heard, processed by the brain's auditory pathways, they sound alike; related; descriptive; intertwined.
I choose to believe not.
*It turns out that the 2-snake Caduceus was not, in fact, originally the symbol of medicine. It was confused with the 1-snake rod of Aesclepius. However in recent decades, the original "mistake" has become institutionalized enough not to matter. At least not to me, and certainly not in the context of this post.